Noting the Passing of a true champion – Aunty B Nabarula

Warning – contains pictures of Warlmanpa, Warumungu, Alyawarra and related people who have passed away (but Nabarula’s family has approved use of name and pictures for funeral coverage elsewhere).



Some memories of Aunty B Nabarula – a true champion.

By Bruce Reyburn

Aunty B was always looking after other people as far back as I can remember. And looking after country and community as well.

And I can remember back to 1980 when I first came to Tennant Creek doing research for the Warumungu land claim. The senior men said I was to work with men, so I did not work with women during those years. Jane Lloyd worked with the women and knew them much better than I did. Later on, I got to know some of the women much better

In February 1980, starting work on the Warumungu land claim, I made some tape recordings with men at Ngurrantiji. I sent some tape recordings I made to Rod Hagen in Melbourne, another anthropologist working on the land claim. He asked me who were these “Arnie and Barney” the men were talking about on the audio tape. “Not Arnie and Barney!” I said, putting him right, two important women. [Annie and Bunny]

Later in 1980 I was working with M. Taylor Japanangka, a key man for the Tennant Creek area. We killed a big goanna one day while out on country doing land claim work. Japanangka wanted Aunty A to get this treat. I remember driving around with Japanangka in the dark streets when we got back to town to deliver it to the house the two sisters were staying.

Aunty B was often with her sister (Aunty A) and their families.

After the Country-Liberal Party Northern Territory Government jumped the Warumungu land claim in November 1982, the claimants and CLC decided to challenge the government in the High Court.

Aunty B came on the 1983 bus trip to the High Court in Canberra. A long hard trip, and she helped looking after the kids. The kids were always happy. She did a good job.

We stopped at Bourke on the way down. Local Wumpurrarni people at Bourke put us up at the Wally Byers Memorial Hall. Two photos in the hall were we stayed. Aunty B and lots of kids.

When we got to the High Court in Canberra and the serious land claim business was going on inside with the Judges and lawyers (no place for children) some of us took the kids for a run outside and into the National Gallery next door. One photo is in front of a very famous painting at the time called ‘Blue Poles’. Aunty B with the kids, again.

When I left the Land Council and came to live in Tennant Creek, in the mid-1980s, I worked at Julalikari Council as a Community Development Officer for a while. Aunty B was a very hard-working Council member, and one of my jobs was to drive the 12 seater bus around the town and town camps to pick people up for the regular Council meeting. I found it was quickest if I did what Aunty B wanted me to do – drive here to drop this kid here, drive there to do this etc. That was the fastest way back to the office where Co-ordinator John H. was waiting for the meeting to start. If I tried to do it my way, we would be a lot slower. Nabarula was a very good ‘director’ once you learnt to listen to her.

The Julalikari Council members were vitally important for the housing and community projects we were working on. Aunty B always gave her time and experience freely. She always worked hard for other people in all the town camps.

Aunty B and Aunty A always took part in the Sorry Camps when someone passed away.

Aunty B was always interested to make sure my children, Rocky and Fuchsia, were happy too during our years in Tennant Creek. They are Sorry to hear the sad news of her passing.

It was always a pleasure to go out of town for a day with Aunty B and members of her family.

“Stop. Get that good firewood, Japaljari, for my old mother!” She would tell me if we were driving somewhere in winter. It burns long into the cold night.

On one trip when we drove back to Tennant Creek from Ali Curung Aunty B recounted how, when they all lived at Warrabri back in the days when they were confined to such places (late 50s and early 60s) there had been major life-directing decisions made by the elders, led by such men as T. Plumber – and these had been relayed to the rest of the group. And accepted.


I got a sense of a kind of collective consensus at work, in which younger people accepted the wisdom and direction of their elders, as she did. All one family. Aunty B always had respect.


On that trip from Ali Curung, after we passed through the Devil’s Marbles, about 100 km south of Tennant Creek, Nabarula sighed and told me about the great extent of country which had been assigned to her and which was her responsibility.


It extended far to the north from where we were. Much of it was then under pastoral lease. Some station owners would not allow people to collect traditional bush-food on country because they might upset cattle on agistment. Big job getting Papulanyi to understand.


I knew Nabarula had special attachment to a place known as Alluvial, north of the Warrego road (which heads westerly out of Tennant Creek to the Warrego mine).  She had long hoped to get an outstation for her family there, away from the humbug of town.


I do not recall the exact details of what areas of land Nabarula was responsible for,  but what I do recall was her words to the effect that “Papulanyi (Whitefellas) have no idea about how much country we Wumpurrarni people have.”


“True words.”  I could only agree with Nabarula. It is a big job looking after country and culture properly. Big job looking after family too. She always took on the hard yards.


I cannot remember if Nabarula played a role when we all stopped the Toxic Waste Incinerator which the government wanted to locate near the Warrego mine smelter. Maybe someone else has a better memory than me. I am sure Aunty B would have been in that struggle – which was won by the people of Tennant Creek town all working together.


After we left Tennant Creek in late 1989 for Coledale (Wollongong) we always kept in touch with Nabarula. Sometime during the 1990s we came back to Tennant for a visit. One time Aunty B and Aunty A came to visit us in Coledale. People who met them in Wollongong have very fond memories of their visit – and always asked me about them.

Helen has written about their visit to Coledale and Sydney and has some more pictures.

And we always visited Aunty B when we came back to Tennant Creek over the years, including, more recently, during the campaign and court case to stop the radioactive waste facility at Muckaty. I will always remember the YouTube video of Nabarula in the demo in Paterson Street where she is getting along using her walking frame. A true champion to the end.

Aunty B called me her Lumbarra, and this has been an honour for me.

Knowing her enriched our lives.

We will miss her.

Rest in peace – your hard work over Aunty B.


Bruce (Japaljari) Reyburn


14-15 Sept 2015


For story of Aunty B Nabarula funeral service by the local paper, The Tennant and District Times see




Pictures above – in Bourke on way to High Court


Picture above – we take a break on the bus trip to Canberra, south of Dubbo?




Pictures above – National Gallery in Canberra while Warumungu Land Claim High Court Case is underway


Picture at Circular Quay, Sydney – catching ferry to Manly. Aunty B on left.

Glimpses of Aranda Cosmology – Part 2 – Astral Coding – Milky Way- Presence and Absence

In this second part i look at some of the work of B. G. Maegraith, who visited Ntaria-Hermannsburg in 1929, to study Western Aranda and ‘Luritja’ Astronomy. While he found that the night sky was divided into two big camps, Luritja and Aranda respectively (with the two combined in the Milky Way), I take a closer look (based on his findings) of an important exception in light of more recent thinking regarding “Mother’s Brothers” and “Sister’s Sons”.

I then explore some matters regarding the Emu in the Sky, Rainbow Serpents and similar – without reaching any conclusions.

And i touch lightly on the issue of ‘philosophies without ontology’, systems of signification – and the need for a new approach with the stress on relating.


Glimpses of Aranda cosmology Part 1 – Altjira Iliiŋka.

This follows on from ‘Larapinta Way’, posted to this blog earlier – but here we take a closer look into the Skyworld – and also learn something of Western Aranda cosmology regarding life on Earth.

Glimpses of Aranda cosmology Part 1 – Altjira Iliiŋka.

WARNING – contains images of Western Aranda People who have passed away.

Bruce Reyburn
May – Sept 2015

“Altjira has emu-feet (ilia – emu, inka – legs, feet) and it is for this reason he is called Altjira iliinka… He dwells in Heaven (alkira) which has existed since eternity (ngambakala); it is represented by the aborigines as a continent. The Milky Way is a great stream (larra; also ulbaia, called creek), with high trees and sweet pereninal (sic-R) springs; here are found delicious berries and fruit in great quantities; flights of birds inhabit the great kingdom of Altjira, while many animals, such as kangaroos (ara), wild cats (tjilpa) etc, prowl about in its huge hunting-grounds. While Altjira himself lies in wait for the game, which comes to the springs to quench its thirst, his wives collect fruits, which grow abundantly in all seasons. The stars (with the exception of a few constellations, which are regarded as belonging to Totem-Gods ascended to Heaven) are the camp-fires of Altjira.” (Carl Strehlow 1907:1-2 (Chewings translation)”

“Hence the sight of the starlit Central Australian sky brought no consolations of immortality to the dark folk who gazed at the full glory of its brilliant magnificence. For mortal men no bridge remained that might have linked the earth to with the sky.” (TGH Strehlow ‘Songs of Central Australia’ 1971:621)


This document is too long to post to a blog so i have opted to share it from Onedrive by url.!1694&authkey=!AL91lsRf06h3CIM



YouTube video – Under Aboriginal Skies (with Duane Hamacher)

Presented at the “Illawarra Aborigines Before Colonisation” conference held at the University of Wollongong on 1-2 August 2015.

Abstract: Indigenous astronomical knowledge is filled with connections between stellar positions, animal behaviour, seasonal change, sacred law and ceremony, and includes descriptions of past astronomical events. This talk explores the science encoded in oral traditions connections and discusses current research being done by Nura Gili staff and students in Indigenous Astronomy. Examples from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups are discussed. 

Bio: Dr Duane Hamacher is a Lecturer and ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow in the Nura Gili Indigenous Programs Unit at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia and leads Nura Gili’s Indigenous Astronomy Group. His research focuses on cultural and historical astronomy. He earned graduate degrees in astrophysics and Indigenous Studies, is a Council member of the International Society for Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture (ISAAC), and is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage (JAHH). 

Larapinta Way – “As above, so below.”

Bruce Reyburn – July August 2015.


I learnt via a Facebook posting of the passing of John Morieson (who built on William Stanbridge’s pioneering indigenous astronomy for the Boorong family of Lake Tyrrell). I am not familiar with his work and look forward to learning more. The FB posting by Australian Indigenous Astronomy noted that he worked with Aboriginal communities for decades and that, in 1996, he completed an M.A. thesis at the University of Melbourne analysed Boorong Astronomy from the documents of William Stanbridge.

From a small website entry connect to the Facebook posting:

“We know that a basic principle in Aboriginal astronomy is that what is in the sky is a reflection of what is on earth. Therefore what is found in the sky gives us an understanding of what life was like for the Boorong Clan around Lake Tyrrell.” ( accessed 11 July 2015).

The image immediately formed in my mind of the sky as a huge reflecting mirror. That is, the complete opposite of the usual use of reflecting mirrors in constructing telescopes in order to peer further into the depths of distant galaxies.

It struck a chord with me as it summed up a line of enquiry of my own over the last week. As part of a larger work (in connection with Western Arrernte cosmology and Altyere or Altjira Iliiŋka – (The Emu-footed Sky-Being and his kin) I have been exploring the links between a Central Australian river and the Milky Way. The strong association between the river and the Milky Way suggested to me as “As above, so below” relationship.

But as Philip Clarke notes:

“In Aboriginal cosmology, the perceived Skyworld was a distorted reflection of the terrestrial landscape …” (Clarke 2014:321). Like a distorting mirror, the images are subject to forms of fantastic transformations, familiar in all systems of mythology. It is not a simple matter of looking for parallels between the world above and the world below.

The short entry the notes of John Morieson that, amongst other things:

“Through wide reading in several disciplines he attempts to place the sites in the landscape into their original context and to read the night sky as the people once did.”

What follows is the result of my initial – and brief – research which I put forward in a similar spirit.


There is something about being in desert of Central Australia which enables you to feel larger things more keenly.

In his book “Broken Song” about the life of T.G.H. Strehlow, Barry Hill writes about the presence of the usually dry and sandy Finke River near Ntaria, site of the Lutheran Hermannsburg mission, in Western  Aranda (Arrernte) country in Central Australia.

“At all times the Finke is a powerful presence as it snakes its way around the Range of Doom. In the afternoon light it spreads itself along as a welcome. At dusk it takes all the day down into itself. At night the stars fall into its sand which, under the flare of the Milky Way, is still white. In the middle of the night the pale belly of the snake has gone: it has rolled over and its course is as dark as the range. The first pink in the sky also washes the ridgeline. Finally, when the sun shows itself, the whole bed of the river is sitting up again: it wakes with a shout.

The little limestone church on the river’s bank might ring its bell, but the note gets lost along the river.” (Barry Hill “Broken Song” 2003:39-40)

Broken song? Barry Hill note that it is not the Songs of Life chanted across generations by senior lawmen that are not broken. Coming from country itself, they made of far more subtle and resilient ‘stuff’ than that. They will continue to inform our representations of life in the same way magnets arrange iron filings, and giant planets their spectacular halo rings.

(Picture of the Lutheran Mission Church at Hermannsburg, Ntaria, – by me 2015)

(Picture of river at back of Hermannsburg Mission buildings taken by me 2015)

(Pictures in front of the Kata-Anga Tea Rooms at Hermannsburg by me 2015)

(Picture – side arm of river near Hermannsburg – by me 2015)


” … I sent Kekwick to examine the creek and also another that I could see coming from the north plenty of water to serve our purpose the creeks very large with the finest gun trees we have yet seen, any size and any hight (sic-BR), this seems to be a favourite place for the Natives camping there are 11 wirlies at one encampment a number of new parrots and black cockatoo and numerous other birds, the creek runs over a space of about 2 miles coming from the west the bed sandy after leaving it on a bearing of 329° for 9 miles we passed over a plain of as fine a country as any man would wish to see a beautiful red soil covered with grass a foot high after that it become a little sandy and at 15 mile got into some sand hills but still the feed most abundant I have not passed through such splendid country since I have been in the colony I only hope it may continue the creek I have named the Finke after Wm Finke Esqr of Adelaide.” (Stuart Fourth Expedition Journal 1860 Wednesday 4 April – 1983 edition pp23-24)

Entering this earthly version of paradise, uninvited and without proper ceremony, the Scotsman John McDouall Stuart, in 1860, renamed the Larapinta river “Finke” in honour of William Finke, a German man living in South Australia, who was one of Stuart’s patrons. Both had been in this country for a little over 20 years. Looking for new economic advantages informed their eyes.

Others who came after Stuart learnt the name it was called by their Arrernte ‘hosts’ – “Larapinta” in some accounts. It has a certain ring to it. The name “larapinta” is well known today in Central Australia in somewhat narrow terms of the Larapinta Trail and the Larapinta Drive. There is also the Namatjira Drive, named in honour if the famous Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira. This country has a powerful force which calls up our creative spirit.

(Picture of The Finke/Larapinta near Glen Helen taken by me April 2015.)

When W.B. Spencer (later Sir) wrote up a leading section of the 1896 report of the 1894 Horn scientific expedition to Central Australia, he titled that section “Through Larapinta Land: A Narrative of the Horn Expedition to Central Australia.” (see )

In the Introduction, W.A. Horn (who did not complete the trip) wrote:

“In the very centre of the continent, and within the limits of the Eremian region, there exists an elevated tract of country, known as the McDonnell Ranges … The mountains are a the head of the Finke River, and, for this region, including the valley of the Finke, we have adopted the name Larapinta, from the native name for the Finke, “Larapinta,” and it was over this area most of our expeditions were conducted.” (1896 Part 1 Introduction vii)

Spencer wrote:

“These natives belong to the Arunta tribe, which occupies a large tract of land stretching from the Macumba Creek in the south about seventy miles north of Alice Springs. Westward it extends to Hermannsburg, and its eastward extension is not completely known. At Alice Springs it spreads out about a hundred miles to the east of the telegraph line Very often the men used to describe themselves as Larapinta blacks from the native name of the Finke River, which drains a considerable part of the country which they occupy.” (Spencer Report of the Horn Expedition Part 1 1896:39)

(Picture of cliff walls at Glen Helen, said to represent various Dreaming ancestors – taken by me 2015)

Spencer was not an anthropologist at this time. He met Frank Gillen while on the Horn Expedition and they later joined forces to carry out their famous fieldwork in Central Australia – first with Arrernte people and later with northern peoples, such as Warumungu at the Tennant Creek Telegraph Station.

Dick Kimber, a Central Australian historian specialising in cross-cultural matters, has written about Larapinta in his chapter on Central Australia in the book “Aboriginal placenames” edited by Harold Koch and Luise Hercus (2009 ANU e-press edition).

We can glean some useful information from his fine research. (2009:291-292.)

Kimber provides a quote from Ernest Giles who was camped at the Charlotte Waters Telegraph Station in August 1872. In making inquiries to First Peoples about country to the west and north-west “They often used the words Larapinta and plenty blackfellow.” (Kimber cites Giles (18??) 1979 vol 1. 7-8)

Charlotte Waters is in Arrernte country in the map attached to Aranda Traditions. TGH Strehlow mentions that Arrernte country was said to extend all the way to Oodnadatta. (Aranda Traditions, (1947) 1968:70)

Later in the month (28th August 1872) while on the Finke, in an interaction with some indigenous men, Giles was able to confirm to his satisfaction that the river was called Larapinta. He added that “This word, amongst the Peake and Charlotte natives, means a snake, and from the continued serpentine windings of this peculiar and only Central Australian river, no doubt the name arrives.” (cites Giles 1979 vol1:17)

There are other Central Australian rivers, but the Finke appears to be an exceptionally good one. The Wikipedia entry notes the role of the incised meander. (see link for google maps image)

Kimber notes:

“Although the modern spelling is different (see below – R) Giles was correct in his Arrernte name for the river, but not quite correct in its meaning. Certainly the course of the river is perceived as having been made by a gigantic mythological snake … ” (Kimber 2009:291)

Kimber does not provide a reference for the source of the information regarding the river being formed by a gigantic Dreaming snake.

TGH Strehlow mentions:

‘The great water serpent of emiaŋa migrated from the Hamilton Creek in the Northern MacDonnells to Kantowala , in the middle course of the Finke River, in its early youth. When it was a full-grown hideous monster, it was summoned back home … The snake moved along slowly; its writhing body cleft deep furrows everywhere in its way home to Emiaŋa in the form of creeks and rocky gutters. ” (Aranda Traditions 1968:26)

This does not sound like the Finke River itself, but esoteric Western Arrernte law is not an open book available to all.

By complete contrast, a short and public pamphlet from Glen Helen roadhouse, café and tourist accommodation facility, located and within the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park on the upper reaches of the Finke River, says the name for the place is Ntjarnga – a waterhole “or oasis” – and that:

“Aboriginal people believe that ancestors like the Rainbow Serpent travelled over the land carving paths through it, which formed the landscape as it is today. This particular Rainbow Serpent was said to have travelled along the mountain range until it came to Glen Helen, where it stopped and drank at the waterhole. He then headed East along the McDonald (sic-BR) Ranges … ” (Glen Helen Sites and Stories.)

(Picture of waterhole at Glen Helen – by me April 2015)

The connection with a Rainbow Serpent raises a key question, given the tiers of Arrernte cosmology in which parallels are found between the terrestrial river and the Milky Way “As above, so below?”

That is, is there any Rainbow Serpent type figure associated with the Milky Way? The question can only be posed at this stage. I do not know the answer.

The Glen Helen pamphlet also says that Emu and Deaf/Death Adder are also part of the rich Dreaming complex in this part of the river’s course. Emu was hunted here and this may relate to the Western Arrernte night-sky Emu and Hunters figures mentioned in Maegraith. It notes, too, an important women’s site in the Gorge, Kwarre Tnemaye (Girl Standing). This rock formation is known in English as the Pipe Organs and was painted by Albert Namatjira. Charles Mountford wrote that he traced the Orion and Pleiades/Seven Sisters narrative over a long distance to Glen Helen (Mountford (1965) 1981:20).

Kimber continues his account of Larapinta as a placename with the arrival of Lutheran missionaries at Ntaria in June 1877 to establish the Hermmansburg mission on the river. He provides a very interesting quote from Scherer which connects the river to the Milky Way:

“After evening devotion they sprawled out to sleep on the sandy river-bed of the Finke River, which (Heidenreich says) the people called the earth’s Milky Way on account of its multitudinous white sand, and from which the Heavenly Milky Way was thought to derive. The native name for the Finke was ‘Lara Beinta’.(Scherer 1975: 44)

Kimber continues:

“Scherer, who translated the old German records, adds that ‘Lara Beinta'”[properly] – means “Salt River” … This translation is widely accepted, in that, except in flood, the Finke contains certain waterholes that are constantly salty …” (Kimber in Koch and Hercus 2009:292)

He also provides, through Scherer, the information from the missionary Rev L Schulze that:

“The Milky Way they term ‘Ulbaia” – i.e., water-course” (refs Schulze 1891: 221)

Kimber notes that ulbaia is an alternative for lara and, in more recent Arrernte orthographies, ulbaia = ulpaye and lara = lhere.

Kimber also records that, in 1886, Hermannsburg missionary Rev H Kempe wrote to F.E.H.W. Krichauff who translated the German:

“The Finke is call ‘Lirambenda’.’ Lira’ is a creek, and ‘mbenda’ permanent water and spring” (Kimber ibid)

TGH uses Lira Beinta on his map of Aboriginal Central Australia (Included in his 1971 ‘Songs of Central Australia’). (diphthong ‘ei’ in Beinta)

Spencer, who had a long association with the name Larapinta (and associated journal articles and correspondence) noted, in 1927 :

” … the natives living along the Finke River, who are often spoken of as Larapinta blacks, to distinguish them from other groups, Larapinta being the native name of the river. (Fn 1) The pronunciation of the name of this river, that runs from the north-west to the south-east across Arunta country, varies in different localities. It is often pronounced as if spelt Larapeinda.” (Spencer 1927 Vol 1: 179)

Amongst the journal articles he would have known “The Religious Ideas of the Arunta’ by N.W. Thomas (Folk-Lore Vol 16 No 4.)

Thomas, following up South Australian reports by the missionary Kempe and also reproduced by Krichauff, Thomas had written to Carl Strehlow regarding the absence of mention of an Emu-footed sky-being in Spencer and Gillen’s 1899 publication “The Native Tribes of Central Australia”. Thomas mentions that Gillen had previously given an account of this sky-being in the report of the Horn expedition.

His condensed translation of Carl Strehlow reads, in part:

“Altjira is surrounded by handsome youths and immortal virgins. He is the creator of the heavenly bodies – sun. moon and stars. The Milky Way is a river, hence called by the blacks lara, river, or ulbaia, creek; birds and beasts, too, wander through the realm of Altjira. When rain clouds come up, it is Altjira walking through the sky – a good omen for mankind of a season of plenty. Altjira shows himself to man in the lightning; the thunder is his voice … ” (Carl Strehlow 1905 letters to N.W. Thomas, translated from German).

The translated letter from Carl Strehlow 20/12/01 which is to be found on is similar in content to those dated Feb 11 and August 3 1905 used by Thomas.

In 1907 Carl Strehlow began publication of his main ethnographic work: Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral-Australien, Ed. Städtisches Völkerkunde-Museum Frankfurt am Main and Moritz Freiherr v. Leonhardi, Vol. 1-5, Frankfurt 1907-1920

Carl Strehlow’s 1907 published account, translated from German by Chewings, expanded a little on this picture:

“The Milky Way is a great stream (larra; also ulbaia, called creek), with high trees and sweet perennial springs: here are found delicious berries and fruit in great quantities; flights of birds …” (from Carl Strehlow major work, Chewing’s English extract on

It is not clear to me what the Western Arrernte name is for the Milky Way. The IAD Press Eastern and Central Arrernte picture dictionary gives ‘amiwara’. Their Western Arrernte picture dictionary is out of print and difficult to locate.

TGH provides amewara as its name in the Alitera dialect (Hale River (Songs:179) – accent over the ‘e’.) He also provides a fascinating comment in his glossary:

“Amewara Tnataŋa (“The foot of the Milky Way” or “The great beam of the Milky Way”), the Aranda name for Port Augusta, …” (Songs 735 – Strehlow text has accents.)

Tnataŋa can be glossed, as TGH does, as a ceremonial pole. Examples of these, which may be restricted to initiated men, are highly decorated.

Spencer, in ‘The Arunta’:

“Nurtŭnja. A pole used in sacred ceremonies, emblematic of the animal or plant giving its name to the totem with which the ceremony is connected.” (accent over first ‘u’.) (Vol 2 (1927) 2011:622)

That information certainly opens up the vault of the Central Australian night sky!

The distance from the flood-out of the Finke River, disappearing into the Simpson Desert, to Port Augusta, at the head of Spencer Gulf, is some several hundred kilometres. The Dreaming track/Songlines connections between Arrernte people and Port Augusta have been documented by others.

Philip Clarke notes the work of Luise Hercus regarding the Urumbula songline in Nukunu language, which goes from Port Augusta, through Central Australia to the Gulf of Carpenteria in Western Queensland. Quoting Hercus:

“The main feature was a huge tree, so high that it was like a great ceremonial pole which in turn represented the Milky Way. This giant tree was located close to the present day Port Augusta Hospital.” (Clarke ‘Aboriginal People and their Plants’ (2007) 2009:24. Hercus ‘A Nukunu Dictionary’ 1992:3.)

(An old tree, in Todd Street, Mparntwe – Alice Springs – taken by me 2015)

Clarke says “see also Strehlow 1970:94-5). OK. There TGH said:

“Some of these Central Australian linking myths were almost certainly based on actual long-distance travels and on historical events. The Eastern and Lower Southern Aranda urumbula myth which linked such Simpson Desert centres as Akara and Pmar Ulbura with Amewara Tnataŋa (Port Augusta) was without doubt one of these. Not only was the 600-mile route described in the myth a practicable one – human beings could have followed it in ease during good seasons – but the urumbula verses sung at Port Augusta were composed, not in Paŋkala but in Aranda, and the Simpson Desert urumbula verses sung at Akara and Pmar Ulbura celebrated a tnatantja pole standing in the sea at Port Augusta.” (1970:94-95. Check original for TGH accents).

During my research with Warumungu people in the 1980s I was told that people from the Gulf of Carpenteria would come to the Devil’s Marbles, 100km south of Tennant Creek, as part of a major gathering involving numerous other language groups. They had their own designated camping places in the country around that large complex. There were also large gatherings, when good seasons allowed, on the Barky Tableland.

While I cannot say if Arrernte people were present, there are clear links between the Northern Arrernte major Fire Dreaming site of Rubuntja and the Warumungu Fire Dreaming country Warupuntja (within sight of the Devil’s Marbles). These links were explicitly affirmed either as being related by a spark from one going to the other site and/or burning underground. These Dreaming connections would have enabled visiting by one group to the other.

Opening our minds to the realities of life in this country prior to the arrival of Europeans requires gaining a better degree of appreciation of the extent of the flow of messages, services and people over large areas.

I find it useful to regard the messages which travelled along Dreaming tracks or Songlines as being like messages travelling along life’s meta-neural systems, connecting one part of country (as though a form of intelligence) to another.

These messages, which originate ‘outside’ of humanity, pass through humanity and flow back into the cosmos – to allow life to govern itself.

Such talk is nonsense, of course, to descendants of a Neolithic tradition which created a false image of themselves in order to seek to impose their narrowly will on life (an impossible task, as it happens, and the feedback from life that this is so continues to be ignored by those who, enjoying self-privileging positions in the resulting distorted life-formation, present themselves as a governing elite.)

While materialistic minds can detect the carrier signals for these messages, lacking the appropriate codes we cannot understand what they say.

It is striking in this regard to pay due homage to Carl Strehlow, who was (I understand) the first to debunk the earlier misunderstanding that the Songs of Aranda peoples were meaningless. The great work of his son continued in this major task.

At the very least, these songs contain the real poetry of this country – poetry formed by eons of intimate relationships with all aspects of life here.

And, in my ‘working hypothesis’, they contain metaphors which not only provide the means for interpreting experience, they enable Being to truly connect with Cosmos. These complex arrangements of metaphors represent the combined wisdom of real life gained over countless generations.

Stepping back for a moment from all this detail, there is clearly a parallel in Arrernte thinking between the major feature of the landscape – the great river – and the major feature of the overhead sky – the Milky Way.

This may be a major link – a sort of master analogy which informs Western Arrernte cosmology.

TGH Strehlow notes in ‘Songs of Central Australia’ (as does Kimber page 318) the role played both by oblique references and systematic substitutions of metaphorical alternatives in Arrernte texts. The Milky Way is itself included amongst the examples provides by TGH (1971:179), in verses which include a reference to a sacred site on the final flood-out of the Finke river.

“The variant names are often greatly different in nature, particularly when poetic imagery is used, … This suggests that sites almost certainly had alternative names …” (Kimber 318) This sounds very much like the ‘codes’ of Levi-Strauss which allow information (in myth-narratives) to be transposed from one register, as it were, to another in order to convey the same message.

To think of Larapinta as ‘Salty Waterhole River’ hardy does justice to its importance. Perhaps it is an oblique or overt way to refer to something of more esoteric importance?

TGH, in providing a glowing account of the Western Arrernte country he knew so well, provided a more rounded picture;

“The Finke itself contains a considerable number of permanent water-holes, some of the most important being Arotna, Rama, Tnjima, Ntarea and Irbmaŋkara. Wherever there is no surface water a soak can be obtained with ease anywhere in the bed of the Finke from Japalpa in the north-west to Irbmaŋkara (Running Waters) in the south-east, by digging a few feet into the deep coarse sand and smoothly-worn gravel stones of the river bed. The Finke, however, carries much salt; and quite a number of salty lagoons, bitter with minerals, are to be found in the river bed, often only a few hundred yards away from open expanses of sweet water.” (Aranda Traditions p60)

And how sweet that water can be in this part of a very arid country!

There is clearly a very strong analogy between the Larapinta and the Milky Way. One is compared to the other with ease. The bountiful features of the Milky Way are those which accord with the first recordings of Larapinta by Stuart.

What we can draw together from these various elements a supernatural serpent, thunder and lightning, water, plants and animals, birds … a great river running through the land, a great spectacle in the night sky. Glimmers of possible connections have to do.

There is very much a sense of ‘LIFE’ in this rich mix (complete with its counterbalancing salty aspects as though yang to yin). Life in capital letters.

TGH records that, after a season of abundance, and with the onset of harder times:

“… Northern men and Western men would meet once again at Japalpa (Finke Gorge), where, according to Western Aranda traditions, the first shapeless human beings came into life on the banks of the rock-sheltered water-hole which defies even the most prolonged attacks of a Central Australian drought.” (Aranda Traditions p 50)

From his map in Songs, the Finke Gorge where Japalja is located is south of Glen Helen rather than in the Finke Gorge National Park (south of Hermannsburg), and thus closer to the source of the river.


Milky Way


At one end of an imaginary rainbow, the place where humanity came into life – and at other end, by the ‘salty’ waters of far distant Port Augusta, the ‘foot’ of the decorated powerful ceremonial pole, the light source of the great beam of the Milky Way.

Now there’s a glowing cosmic picture awaiting a very good artist from Namatjira country!

(see, for example, the wonderful pottery work being done by Hermannsburg potters at )

A New Flowering – poppies amongst the desert loving plants

This weekend in Alice Springs ANZAC Hill is the centre of a ceremony of sacred significance to a great number of people. This year’s centenary of the fighting which gave us ANZAC Day has been identified as the bloody event which – more than any other bloody battle – marks the formation of Australia as a fair dinkum nation, rather than a collection of British colonies.

The blood red poppy is the plant which, in our collective imaginations, has come to represent the loss of life and other forms of real sacrifice which this bloody birth required. Perhaps for this reason rosemary is sidelined from the striking ANZAC displays.

The Alice Spring RSL is located on a back road at the foot of ANZAC Hill away from the central business area, on Schwarz Crescent .

The RSL HQ just happens to be about the closest building to the sacred place which, according to the booklet by David Brooks, Arrernte people consider to be the real central point of Mparntwe – an area known as Tyuretye (Choritja). This area is part of a complex of sacred features from what we know as the Dreamtime.

Schwartz Crescent crosses the Todd River (Lhere Mparntwe) near a site – Atnelkentyarliweke Athirnte – associated with the Dreaming Caterpillars. ANZAC Hill itself is part of the Dreaming complex, with two Arrernte names Untyeye-artwilye and Atnelkentyarliweke, which relate to Corkwood and Caterpillar Dreamings.

In other words, on this very special ANZAC Day weekend, in the very centre of Australia we have a situation where the hearts of two sacred life-narratives exist side by side – but with little real communication between the two.

Picture – looking at Atnelkentyarliweke Athirnte and Alice Springs RSL



I am told that four indigenous horsemen will ride in the ANZAC parade on Saturday, with 12 others leading horses.

All very good. But when I visited ANZAC Hill this morning (Friday 24 April) I noticed that the team of indigenous workmen (about a dozen or so) putting up protective scaffolding around the monument had the letter B on their work vests and were being overseen by a prison official. He mentioned to me, after I asked where the poppy display was, that this work would ‘keep the prisoners happy’.

“Just how happy?” I wondered. I sensed I was not to talk with these men, although I did say hullo as I walked past. They were outside, yes, but this was not time for ‘visitors’

I gained a sense of what a guard – a friendly chap – of prisoners of war might say in an occupied country. And a sense of what an everyday citizen, myself, might accept as normal something which is far from it. It is not normal.


Some of the crew of HMAS Arunta have come to Alice Springs/Mparntwe for the special ceremony – a long way from the ocean in any direction for the navy – in recognition of the ship’s name. Arunta is an earlier spelling of Aranda which has in turn given way (for some) to Arrernte.

I am not sure what the crew of HMAS Warramunga are doing. Warumungu people live in the Tennant Creek area 500km up the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs.

Both Arunta/Arrernte and Warramunga/Warumungu people were made world famous by the writings of early anthropologists such as Spencer, Gillen and (in German) Carl Strehlow at the start of the 20th century. Spencer and Gillen conducted fieldwork at the Alice Springs and Tennant Creek Telegraph Station in 1901 – the same year the Commonwealth of Australia came into existence.

Those hard-working ethnographers, mentored by senior Arrernte and Warumungu lawmen, documented a great deal of the sacred lives of First Peoples in Central Australia. But the great importance of their work – as a means of learning how to better relate between two peoples – has been neglected by non-indigenous Australian decision-makers and everyday people for over a century. Ditto the work of pioneer women ethnographers such as Daisy Bates (in W.A.) and Olive Pink.

There is still only one system of law in the Anglo- Australian system of governance – and that is law based on what is at home in Westminster on the other side of the planet. Virtually no non-indigenous Australian knows anything of the original languages of this country, let alone has a real understanding of the cultures of First Peoples.


If the events of April 1915 marked the birth of a much larger sense of ‘nationhood’ then I argue that – with the passing of 100 years – it is now time for that new form of life to move away from its long adolescence and to grow into some real maturity.

First Peoples here remain captives of a one-sided modern nation-state. Two-laws is not allowed. We still do not recognise the sacredness of the original life in this country. We need to learn to do exactly that. It is not a divisive either/or situation. We need a healing both-and approach.

While (like Sam Neil!) I am opposed to nationalism I firmly believe that the best way to gain respect for this countries First Peoples and their Ways is to respect what is held sacred by those who, still, are unaware of this country’s original living cultures. Hence respect for those whose lives were sacrificed defending country (even if it was part of a curious form of European madness).

But after the parade is over, another real challenge presents itself. That challenge is to bring this country to a new stage of maturity.

As part of the ANZAC centenary ceremony, local people have handcrafted a large number of red poppies which have been incorporated into a large sign “Lest we forget”.

The many hand-made poppies on the northern side of ANZAC Hill, which make up the large LEST WE FORGET display, can be seen as symbolic of the split blood given in sacrifice. The poppy is not native to this area and I always associate it with Europe (the fields of Flanders?).

Picture of some of the Alice Springs hand-made poppies on the L of Lest We Forget



I was struck when walking up the southern side of the same hill by the extent of small Eremophila bushes – forms of native fuchsias. Eremophila means ‘desert loving’ – they sure survive in hard places. I think the plants I saw on ANZAC Hill may have been the Rock fuchsia, Eremophila freelingii.

Picture – the small shrubs are (I think) Arrethe – Eremophila freelingii


Nearly all Eremophila – which are found only in Australia (with one introduced in New Zealand/Aotearoa?) – seem to be associated with healing characteristics.

One of the species of Eremophila (longifolia) has been said to be one of the most importance – sacred – plants for Arrernte and other First Peoples in the Centre. Peter Latz records that E longifilia is called utnerrenge in Eastern Arrernte and is also called “Emu Bush”.

Why utnerrenge (aka Emu Bush) should be of such sacred importance is a mystery to me. You need to be initiated into First Peoples Ways (and look after your relatives) to learn more about such matters. It is easy to overlook these plants if your eye is not in the key of Eremophila shrubs, and you are looking instead for the more striking landmarks.

Earlier in the week I had been up the southern side of ANZAC Hill and not even seen this shrub. After a few days at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden I had learnt to pick it out. Retracing my steps up the hill today, I was amazed at the extent of this Rock Fuchsia bush. Sometimes it takes time for the scales to fall off our eyes and we begin to see our true surroundings for what they are. (Hey, those scrawny gnarled Corkwoods are sacred too!)

It struck me that the native fuchsias formed a ‘naturally occurring’ counterpoint to the display of artificial poppies on the other (northern) side of the hill. But it is not really ‘natural’ since everything in this country is related to the practices of First Peoples and their cosmic maintenance practices. In other words, both the poppy and Rock Fuchsia displays are cultural – the former of recent origin and the latter from time immemorial.

Peter Latz writes that the Rock Fuchsia – Eremophila freelingii – is called arrethe in Arrernte. In addition to its medicinal uses, “… the attractive flowers are sometimes placed in headbands for decorative purposes during ceremonies.”

The only country I would willingly risk my life for is one where those of wear arrethe in their headbands are included, as senior siblings, with proud poppy and rosemary wearers in ceremonies of floral displays of who we – collectively – are.

That is, a new two-sided and balanced sense of identity … presently in the process of becoming just as desert-loving plants flower after the long drought.

Bruce (Japaljari) Reyburn

Mparntwe/Alice Springs April 2015.



To obtain resources for learning Central Australian language check out the various Picture Dictionaries at (under Language) – they come with audio files in language located on the IAD website.



David Brooks for Mparntwe People “A town like Mparntwe – a guide to the Dreaming tracks and sites of Alice Springs” Jukurrpa books IAD Press Alice Springs

Peter Latz 1995 “Bushfires & Bushtucker – Aboriginal plant use in Central Australia” IAD Press Alice Springs

Google up Eremophila











Barkly Regional Council (NT) – funding cuts hit young indigenous people

Barkly Regional Council

MEDIA RELEASE 10 March 2015

Young people pay the price in Indigenous funding cuts

Fixing dire Indigenous disadvantage was one of Tony Abbott’s personal priorities in his preelection Promises.

Last week the Prime Minister’s Indigenous vision to close the gap became blurrier as Barkly
Regional Council (BRC) had jobs slashed across its youth, workplace and environmental
programs under the Federal Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) funding.

Barkly Regional Council provides services across the second largest local government region
in Australia to predominantly Aboriginal residents who directly rely on council at the

Critical to this success is the workforce, a scarce resource already, which builds bridges to
develop indigenous capacity, employment in the workplace and health and wellbeing.
“Our youth development has been completely shattered,” says BRC President Barb Shaw.

“Twenty-seven Aboriginal jobs are now on the line. What will this do for the 500 kids across
the region, aged from 5 – 15, that use our services everyday? Who will help them if we go?”

Following the Abbott Government’s election 18 months ago, Mr Abbott drafted the
Indigenous Affairs portfolio into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and
under his control.

He announced new targets to close the gap, offering five main pillars, the key three pillars
being: getting to work, getting children to school and making communities safe.

“We know the reality of creating meaningful Indigenous employment,” said President Shaw. “Last year Council delivered a successful Language, Literacy and Numeracy pilot project to help develop speaking, reading, writing and basic maths skills for council staff in one of the region’s remote communities.

“No funding in this area now means we cannot roll the project out across our other communities and that literacy and numeracy training support, which is fundamental to improving the chances of Indigenous workers in the region getting and keeping a job, has been cut off at the knees.”

Last week, Canberra finally announced the number of organisations set to share $860
million in grants under the new IAS funding and application process.

Barkly Regional Council was notified that through the IAS it will receive 35 per cent less of its previous budget to deliver frontline community services.

Council received funding for Night Patrol, the School Nutrition Program, Elliott Community
Radio and Elliott Playgroup, but youth development, workforce development and animal
management applications were not supported.

“The Prime Minister said last year, “it is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be
held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation”,” said President Shaw.
“He was of course referring to the Sydney café siege gunman but in light of the funding cuts
it appears Mr Abbott, whose government is armed with cash, is holding Aboriginal
disadvantage hostage for political gain.”

The new IAS strategy, consolidating more than 150 programs, grants and activities, has seen
$534 million cut from Indigenous programs administered by the Prime Minister and Cabinet
and Health portfolios.

In Federal Parliament, Labor Senator Nova Peris asked Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel
Scullion if he stood by his claim the Government’s decision to cut $500m from Indigenous
funding would not have an impact on frontline services.

“What is Scullion’s plan?” said President Shaw. “Is this just political recycling? Is the Abbott
government just defunding one area because they can’t address the failures in the Remote
Jobs and Communities Plan (RJCP)?”

“This should be about real jobs and the meaningful journey to get there, not just slash and
burn. Are they trying to close down the bush by stealth?”

President Shaw said that while the council is very grateful to the Commonwealth
Government for receiving a proportion of its funding submission when so many missed out,
“it is disappointing that key programs for health and wellbeing have been slashed or have
not been funded at all, especially for young people”.

“This funding is critical to retaining jobs on the ground across the region. So any loss in
funding has a direct job equivalent loss for the bush and its communities,” she said.

The Barkly Regional Council is heavily reliant on grants for local jobs and this news will
impact youth, workplace and environmental management areas, ensuring job numbers and
opportunities for Indigenous people go backwards.